Friday, May 6, 2011

Arizona - Jerome

Although nothing will beat the grandeur of the Grand Canyon (this blog entry coming later), our favourite quirky fun spot to visit on this trip was the town of Jerome, high on top of Cleopatra Hill.  Once a bustling copper mining town of 15,000 people that was the hub of activity and economy in Arizona, it has now become a "ghost" town, both in the sense of drastically declined population after the mines were depleted, and from their reputation of being haunted by ghosts of the past.

The first thing we noticed when we got into town was the number of Bikers, reminiscent of our trip to Port Dover, Ontario.  This seemed a bit out of place in an old western ghost town that seemed frozen in time, but perhaps the bikers are now the modern day cowboys hanging around the saloons with their "hogs" instead of horses.  Given that I have not seen many other visibile minorities in Arizona, I must have seemed equally foreign to them.  We wandered into a biker "souvenir" shop called Scooter Trash, full of leather, skulls, swords and other weird artifacts.

We next came across Liberty Theatre Gifts which on the surface seemed like just another souvenir shop, but actually held a historic jewel in the back.  For $2, we could tour the still functioning Liberty Theatre, open since 1918.  
Sitting in the plush velour seats, we watched a film on the history of Jerome, narrated by one of the "resident ghosts".  There were also rooms full of old movie memoriabilia including antique movie cameras, posters of classic movies, cardboard cutouts of icons such as Bogie, Marilyn Monroe, Frankenstein, James Dean, and an old Nickelodeon ticket booth advertising moving pictures shown for 5 cents.

One of the historic details described in the film was the presence of brothels in Jerome, including one run by Madame Jennie Bauters from Belgium.  Today, there is a pizza parlour named after her called Belgium Jenny's Bordello Bistro and Pizzeria featuring a rather racy menu.

 The building of the former brothel called "House of Joy" is still in existence although it has now been converted into a "Brothel Boutique", selling souvenirs such as old photos and clothing, playing cards, and brass checks or tokens used as currency for a night of sin and joy.  The outside of the shop is full of weird and wonderful oddities including a Miss Piggy-like mannequin dressed as a madame, a giraffe with a captains hat, a sign that reads "Hippies use the back door ... no exceptions".

Continuing to the top of the hill, we finally reached the Grand Jerome Hotel which was a former 1920s hospital and is supposed to be haunted by people who died there through sickness, accident, suicide and murder.  We were brave enough to eat at its ajoining restaurant calleld "The Asylum", but not brave enough to stay there overnight!  The Asylum is known for its roasted butternut squash soup which had a bit of a zip to it and came with cream dizzled in the form of a spiderweb.

In honour of the restaurant's name, there is a creepy wax figure of an insane asylum inmate at the end of the corridor of the hotel rooms.  Ghost walks are given at night but we didn't stick around for that either.

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